Friday, August 17, 2007


A lord of the flies.

Simon Leys, The Wreck Of The Batavia: A True Story (Thunder's Mouth Press, 2005).

In 1629, the Batavia was the pride of the Dutch East Indies Company, en route from Holland to Indonesia by way of the Cape of Good Hope, when it ran aground one night on a reef near some small islands well off Australia's west coast. Most of the 300+ aboard survived the wreck, and a small crew took the one seaworthy vessel that survived in the hopes of travelling more than a thousand miles to find help. The tragedy that followed was a human one, a frightening story of depravity among those that remained. In its day, the tale of the Batavia was as well known as the Titanic's was in the last century. The Batavia has resurfaced of late, and its physical remains are in a museum in Fremantle. Simon Leys began researching its story many years ago, but he took to long to write his book, and in the meantime, he says, another author beat him to the punch with the definitive account. If you want a 500-page account, read the other book. Leys' take is an elegant 60 pages, which was enough for me.

Also included is his account of a voyage on a French fishing boat in the 1950s, one of the last sailboats fishing for tuna.

Leys describe another Dutch wreck found on Australia's west coast.

This is a short little book, and I would have been grumpy had I paid for it what Amazon wants, like many of the commenters there. Happily, I found it remaindered for $5.

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